Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Satisfaction through substitution

We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at it's centre 'satisfaction through substitution' indeed divine self satisfaction through divine self substitution. The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him, nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law, nor a compulsory submission to God to some moral authority above Him from which He could not otherwise escape, nor a punishment of a meek Christ through a harsh and punitive Father, nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father, nor an action by which the Father bypassed Christ as mediator.

Instead the righteous, loving Father humbled Himself to become in and through His only Son, flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising His own character. The theological words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they can not, under any circumstances by given up. The Biblical Gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.
John Stott, The Cross Of Christ, Pp 159-160

If you've not yet read 'The Cross of Christ' run, don't walk to your nearest bookshop and grab a copy. It's clear, it's helpful, it's heart warming. It may be the most vital book you'll ever read. Increasingly as i go through it, and as i read the Bible, i think that a defective view of the atonement leads to a defective view of God, and vice versa. If Christ death was about bearing our pain, or offering a perfect confession of our sin, we've lost the holiness of God. A holy God demands satisfaction for our sin, not someone to suffer so we know how bad it is. In and through Jesus, God became just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ.

Secondly, it may be fed by a poor Biblical Theology, a poor understanding of how the Old Testament is a Christian book. Read Leviticus...why are those sheep being killed? So they can empathise with us? To show us the worst excess of our sin? By way of example? They are being killed, like Christ our passover lamb was, to show that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, that God, rightly, demands a bloody sacrifice to pay for our sins. This is not a primitive, base understanding of crime and punishment, this is not an pagan idea grafted onto Christianity...this is justice, humbling, sacrificial substitutional justice, which is probably why we dislike it so much...

Monday, July 06, 2009

Trials in James

One of my least favourite Christian ideas is the teaching that says 'when you become a Christian, nothing bad will ever happen to you again.' Kind of a prosperity Gospel lite, the idea if we behave ourselves and don't sin, y'know, too badly, God will bless us and we'll have a happy life, a great family and a good job.

Aside from being hundreds of miles away from the experience of the majority of Christians in the last two thousand years who were faithful witness of the Gospel, but have suffered terribly, it also makes not only Paul, but Jesus (!) and inadequate Christian. Was Jesus faithful to God? Yes, the only man who ever truly was. Did He suffer?

Paul was obedient, trusting, faithful, passionate and active, and yet he had danger on all sides: robbers, his own people, Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, from false brothers and toil and hardship. He suffered many a hungry, cold, sleepless night. This 'Gospel' is self evidently untrue.

Christians do face trials, of varying degrees probably every day. So how do we deal with them? James 1:1-11 has three answers:

We count it all as joy: 2-4
These trials produce inner strength, they produce the deep faith of a mature Christian. James says trials will make people 'perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.' Trials will make us wiser and stronger, they will deepen our dependence on Christ, they will enlarge our heart towards Him. So in them we rejoice.

We pray: 5-8
Suffering through prolonged and difficult times requires help, requires an extra dose of wisdom from God. How do we get that wisdom? Ask for it! God is good and generous. Christ loves His bride and will give her wisdom without fail, without grumbling, and without measure. Do you trust God? Then act like it and ask Him for wisdom without doubt. And He will give it to you, and you will persevere.

We focus on Christ: 9-11
This section might seem a bit random when we first read it. If James is 'the Proverbs of the New Testament,' perhaps we might wish he'd arranged his thoughts a bit clearer instead of going of on a financial tangent when he should be talking about trials. Unless, dealing with money is one of the greatest trials Christians face. Whether we are rich or poor, James has an answer for us. Focus on Christ. If you're poor, exalt, because your life doesn't equal stuff, because you have all you need in Christ, and because one day you will feast with Him, face to face. And if you're rich? Be humble, focus on Christ and remember that nothing you have now will make a difference the moment you die, remember that your pursuits can kill you, and that all you have is passing away. Poor man, rich man, focus on Jesus, who is all we need, and never fades away.